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In recent years, the carbonates industry has undergone a transformation in its product portfolio driven by evolving consumer preferences, changing regulatory measures such as sugar taxes, and increased concerns about health. This transformation trend has been quite visible since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers became more conscious about the impact of sugary drinks on their health. In response to these shifts, companies are investing more in developing new products, with a focus on developing low- or no-calorie carbonates by using sweeteners as alternatives to traditional sugar, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Guida Simoes, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “One of the prominent categories in the carbonates space is diet sodas, which are popular drinks around the world, especially among people who want to reduce their sugar or calorie intake. Almost every popular sugary drink on the market has a “light” or “diet” version – Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, etc. Despite their appeal to calorie-conscious people, the effects of diet drinks and artificial sweeteners on health are controversial.”

In response to the evolving trend, major players are constantly innovating and creating different flavors for zero-calorie drinks to attract more consumers. For example, in April 2023, Coca-Cola announced a zero-sugar variant that offers “bold and delicate” flavour profiles during the launch of the Coca-Cola Movement in Spain. Stated to be a collaboration between “Coca-Cola – a beverage company and Rosalia – a Spanish singer”, this launch aims to attract more consumers with healthier products, with sugar-free and calorie-free products in mind.

In 2023, in Western European countries, the market share of low/no-calorie drinks is approximately 34 %, with the UK leading at 54 %, followed by Spain at 45 %, Italy at 18 %, France at 25 %, and Germany at 26 %*. This diversification highlights the varied consumer preferences and market dynamics within the region.

Simoes continues: “Moreover, the interesting correlation between the percentages in the market share of low/no-calorie drinks and the levels of health concerns, as shown by the GlobalData 2023 Q4 consumer survey, adds depth to our understanding. Countries with higher market shares, notably the UK and Spain, demonstrate a higher percentage of consumers 38 % and 42 %, respectively, expressing extreme or significant concern about their health. This showcases a relationship between consumer behavior and evolving product preferences, suggesting that health-conscious individuals are more inclined towards adopting low/no-calorie beverages.”

Simoes concludes: “Tailoring approaches to cater to health-conscious demographics, particularly in markets like the UK and Spain, presents a promising opportunity for growth. For businesses, they can adjust their marketing strategies and innovate products that appeal to consumers who are mindful of their health.”

*GlobalData Consumer Intelligence Center – Market Analyzers, accessed in December 2023
**GlobalData Q4 2023 Consumer Survey, published in December 2023, was conducted with 9068 respondents in Europe

As Chinese consumers are more focused on healthier beverages compared to their US counterparts, the country is witnessing a significant rise in consumer low-calorie soft drinks. Low-calorie soft drinks volumes increased at a triple-digit rate in China between 2019-2022, while the volumes grew by only 10 % in the US, finds GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Global Data forecasts that in China, the volumes of low-calorie beverages will record a positive growth rate of 11.3 % in 2023, while in the US, it will be 2.2 %, albeit the US soft drinks market is much more mature and developed. The low-calorie market share in the soft drinks sector was 17 % in the US in 2022, while it was 2.4 % in China.

Dragos Dumitrachi, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: The carbonates category is the biggest winner regarding the growth of low-calorie beverages. Major brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are continuing to invest in low-calorie variants and the trend is picking up globally. In China, low-calorie volumes are forecast to increase by 13.1 % in 2023, while the US will record a minimal 1.5 % rise in volume. “Since 2019, boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the health trend in the soft drinks sector has accelerated across the globe. In 2022, the world saw China and the US clash on multiple fronts. In the soft drinks consumer market, a similar opposing evolution scenario is taking place between the two countries.”

The carbonates category is the biggest winner regarding the growth of low-calorie beverages. Major brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are continuing to invest in low-calorie variants and the trend is picking up globally. In China, low-calorie volumes are forecast to increase by 13.1 % in 2023, while the US will record a minimal 1.5 % rise in volume.

According to a recent GlobalData consumer survey*, when asked which feature consumers are actively looking for when making a purchase, a significantly higher proportion of Chinese consumers (49 %) said it is essential for the product to be good for physical fitness/health, while in the US, only 29 % find it essential.

Dumitrachi concludes: “This data shows that since the outbreak of the pandemic, whilst both markets show a high level of innovation towards low-calorie launches, Chinese consumers are more concerned about making informed health decisions within the beverage space in comparison to US consumers. Manufacturers in China and the US are set to increase the number of launches to capitalise on this trend throughout 2023.”

*GlobalData Q3 2022 Consumer Survey – China consisted of 532 respondents

Following the latest news that PepsiCo has purchased SodaStream for $3.2bn, Melanie Felgate, Senior Consumer Insights Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view on the breaking news:

“As the carbonates industry faces ongoing challenges both in terms of health and the environment, the decision by PepsiCo to purchase Soda Stream is a bold and potentially smart move. Although long established, SodaStream has remained a relatively niche brand, but with the backing of a global soft drinks giant there is an opportunity to propel the concept mainstream.

‘‘SodaStream allows consumers to customize their own beverages to create not only flavors – but potentially sugar levels – to suit their needs, helping PepsiCo better meet consumer’s needs for products which are not only healthier but do not compromise on taste.

‘‘Furthermore as the environmental burden of plastic waste comes to the fore, the concept can also tackle this by reducing reliance on plastic bottles. This is likely to attract the 35% of consumers globally surveyed by GlobalData in Q3 2018 who claim they would buy more of specific types of products if they were “packaged without any plastic at all”.

‘‘Aside from environmental and health advantages, the move will undoubtedly enable consumers to recreate the famous Pepsi brands they are already familiar with and enjoy. This may help entice the 59% of consumers globally that are influenced by how familiar or trust-worthy a product feels when choosing non-alcoholic beverages, according to GlobalData’s Q3 2018 survey, and may help move SodaStream from a niche appliance to a mainstream fixture in homes.”